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SoxProspects News

March 29, 2010 at 1:49 PM

2010 Prospect Previews: Jose Iglesias and Junichi Tazawa

Today's edition of the series highlights two advanced prospects within the system, with an eye on sharpening their games to become future fixtures with the Boston Red Sox in the years to come.

Position: Shortstop
2009 Team: Did not play
2010 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: A Cuban defector and one of the top international free agents of 2009, the Red Sox aggressively pursued Iglesias and inked him to a team-record $6 million bonus. Flashing well above-average defensive skills, he projects as a perennial elite defensive shortstop at the major league level. Iglesias has excellent instincts and extremely quick hands, effortlessly getting to balls to his right or left in the field. His smooth, fluid transfers enhance his plus throwing arm that shows pinpoint accuracy across the diamond. Scouts who have seen him during his short time in the United States have all commented that Iglesias is about as close to an 80 defensively on the 20-80 scouting scale as is going to come along. At the plate, he features a smooth, compact swing that whips towards the point of contact, and he has the ability to pull his hands in through the hitting zone to clean out inside pitches. His above-average bat speed gives him projection as a contact hitter with continued progress in his offensive development, and he has shown an early knack for producing line drives. An exciting and very talented player, Iglesias has excellent potential to be a major league regular and a long-term fixture at the shortstop position for the Red Sox in seasons to come.

Development Needs: Iglesias will have to adjust to the rigors of baseball in the United States and settle in against professional pitching. A pull hitter right now, he’ll have to develop more of an up-the-middle approach and use the opposite field consistently to keep pitchers from living on the outer third of the plate against him. He could stand to improve on his patience at the plate to work counts and not be too overaggressive early in at-bats. With a smaller frame, Iglesias doesn’t project to add much more muscle, and his projection as a hitter is mostly tied into how much contact he is going to make at the major league level. He’s shown the ability to barrel some balls up in the early going, but he pushes balls more than drives them right now. It remains to be seen how his pitch recognition will fare against a steady diet of advanced off-speed pitches. Scouts are split on Iglesias’ bat and questions linger as to what type of offensive contributions he is going to be able to make.

2010 Outlook: Iglesias spent the early portion of spring training with the major league team and impressed with his overall performance. After being optioned to the minors, it is still a little bit unclear where he is going to be placed to start the 2010 season. If he can continue to show he can handle himself in the batter’s box against upper-level minor league pitching to finish off the spring, Iglesias has a strong chance to break camp in Double-A. One thing is certain, Iglesias will make tough defensive plays look easy and turn in his fair share of spectacular ones over the course of 2010. He will be challenged offensively if placed in Double-A, but if early indications hold true, he’ll get the bat on the ball and drive some balls into the left-center gap and left field corner as he continues to settle in. Improvements in his approach and patience will show with him drawing some walks, working deeper into counts, and increasing the amount of balls he hits to the opposite field. The Red Sox were determined to bring Iglesias into the organization, and early returns have shown they got a gem of a defensive player. 2010 will be about developing the offensive game to fulfill projections of being the future starting shortstop for many seasons to come.

Junichi Tazawa

Position: Starting Pitcher
2009 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: 2009 saw Tazawa not only settle into life in the United States, but also rise through two levels of the minor leagues and make his major league debut during a pennant race in his first season of professional baseball. Featuring advanced secondary offerings, Tazawa uses his slider and curveball to fool and change speeds on hitters. His 77-81 MPH slider shows hard bite at the upper reaches of its velocity to get batters to chase when they are behind in the count and the ability to back up on hitters when he takes a bit off of it, causing them to give up on the pitch before it drops over the arm-side corner of the plate. Tazawa mainly relies on his mid-70’s curveball to finish batters off as it breaks out of the strike zone and into the dirt with tight rotation. Polished as a pitcher, he has the ability to throw all of his pitches at any point in the count and often works backwards on hitters to keep them guessing. Tazawa’s split-fingered fastball may show the most potential out of all of the offerings in his repertoire. He uses it like a change-up, and the bottom falls out of the pitch about three-quarters of the way to the plate. The pitch is extremely deceptive due to the excellent arm action he shows with it, and it could emerge as an excellent weapon for Tazawa as he works it into his pitching patterns more regularly. After mainly working out of the set position in Japan, he made good strides on pitching out of the wind-up and showed he can make the necessary adjustments to continue along the path of a major league starting pitcher.

Development Needs: Tazawa needs to improve the consistency of his fastball, which is directly tied into whether he can fulfill his ceiling as a mainstay in a starting rotation. Working at 88-92 MPH and sitting around 90 MPH, his fastball can fluctuate in velocity from outing to outing. Added focus on strengthening his lower body will help Tazawa maintain more consistent velocity throughout the long-haul of a professional season. His fastball flattens out at higher velocities, and it will be important for him to stress working lower in the zone with the offering, where it shows more tail in on right-handed batters and can get under the hands of hitters. Tazawa has excellent overall command of his fastball, but he’s going to have to throw it with more precision at the major league level, staying out of the middle of the plate and throwing it for more strikes on the corners so batters cannot sit on it. By trusting his fastball more and pounding the lower portion of the strike zone with it early in the count, Tazawa will be able to set up his plus arsenal of secondary pitches to generate more swings and misses. Having not dealt with much failure prior to coming to the United States, he’ll need to stay more level-headed in tough situations and respond better to tough innings.

2010 Outlook: Set to begin the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox, Tazawa will provide starting rotation depth during the 2010 season and will work to polish off his arsenal, with a main focus on bringing his fastball up to the level of his secondary offerings. Positive signs of development will center on him pounding the strike zone more with his fastball, which will lead to an elevation in his strikeout totals at the Triple-A level. Tazawa came as advertised in 2009, and 2010 is a season for him to push himself to the next level. Even at 23 years of age, he still has some projection left due to his relative inexperience as a professional. His secondary offerings will continue to serve him well, and with a little more polish over the course of the season, they can all grade out as at least above-average. At some point in 2010, the Red Sox are going to look to Tazawa to help the major league team. In what role that will be will depend on the pitching needs of the team, but expect this season to be one of putting the finishing touches on an already-advanced product and giving a glimpse if a 25-man roster spot is on the horizon in 2011.